Patricia Gonce Morton, PhD, RN, ACNP-BC, FAAN

From leading top nursing schools to authoring textbooks, Dr. Patricia Morton is known for her work in critical care nursing and nursing education. Most recently, she served as Dean at the University of Utah College of Nursing. She edits numerous nursing journals and is currently the editor of the Journal of Professional Nursing. During a career of more than 40 years, she has won teaching awards and mentored nurses. We spoke with Dr. Morton to learn about her nursing journey, and to hear her thoughts about the future of nursing.

How did you end up in nursing?

I didn't always want to be a nurse, which is interesting because many people know that they want to be a nurse from a young age. I knew from a young age, I was interested in science. And I just tried to figure out how to shape a career that way.

I initially completed a baccalaureate degree in biology. During college, I worked at a hospital on the weekend. I was very inspired by the nurses. One particular nurse took me under her wing, and encouraged me to go to nursing school. She was going to start teaching in a brand new baccalaureate program at Johns Hopkins University and told me I needed to come and be a student. And so I did that, I went to Hopkins, which had transitioned from a diploma program to a baccalaureate program in the 70s.

I particularly found that I loved critical care nursing because it enabled me to see science in action. These are very, very sick people and I really needed to understand the pathophysiology of their illness to implement good assessment and intervention skills.

It was a perfect match for me to work in the intensive care unit after I graduated.

I then decided I needed even more knowledge to be able to take care of critically ill patients. I went back for a master's degree at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. When I was finishing up my master's degree, they offered me a faculty position which I hadn't anticipated. I anticipated I would go back to clinical practice after my master's degree. But I thought, "Oh, well, I'll just try this teaching, see how I like it. If I don't like it, I'll go back to the clinical area." The rest is history. I spent the rest of my career in nursing education, and eventually educational administration, and enjoyed that.

But to be in education, it meant you had to have your doctoral degree. I completed my PhD in Nursing at the University of Maryland, and then eventually went back to school again to become an acute care nurse practitioner so I could teach in that program. I was at the University of Maryland School of Nursing for 33 years, and then was recruited to become the dean at the University of Utah College of Nursing, where I served a five year term as the dean.

That's a synopsis. And so I have found that I love teaching, I also have loved writing and publishing. That's my passion. In my retirement, I continued as editor of a nursing journal sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. I've authored three textbooks and am currently working on the sixth edition of one of the books. And I guide a lot of new nurses and faculty on how to write and publish. In my retirement, I also provide consultation to schools of nursing on curriculum development, and how to meet accreditation standards. I've had a wonderful, wonderful career.

Why did you leave the bedside for a life in academia as a nurse educator?

Well, what I learned is that you can blend both teaching with clinical practice. For the first 10 years of my teaching career, I was teaching undergraduate students. I was in the clinical area with them two days a week, caring for patients. It met my need to still be clinically relevant. But I learned that I love the teaching aspect. It was a wonderful ability to blend both.

After my PhD, I went back to become an acute care nurse practitioner. I practiced as an acute care nurse practitioner at the University of Maryland Medical Center, while I was teaching in the graduate program.

I always tried to find a way that allowed me to blend the teaching and maintain clinical practice in some form. Because it's the clinical practice that really grounds your teaching—it helps us to teach content that's relevant, up to date and accurate. I didn't see it as pulling me away from practice. I saw it as adding another dimension to my practice.

You’ve spent much of your career mentoring students and managing student success. How can nurses find mentors?

When you're mentoring others, you're trying to help guide their career, helping them get through many difficult situations. In mentoring, I try to help people set some stretch goals, to see what they could do next, that would keep them engaged and excited about their career.

Part of my mentoring was not just to answer the questions the person may have in the moment, but helping them look at what could be in their future that they haven't even considered yet. And I'm so proud of the students I've mentored and what they've now accomplished in their career. It's really the most rewarding part of your career is to see what your students can really accomplish.

What about for nurses who are burned out or stuck in a rut?

I've encountered people who have become jaded or bitter. And they're the ones sending toxic fumes all day long into the work setting. And you want to say, “Why? Life is short.”

The beauty of nursing is that you can go anywhere in the country and get a job. You can work in-patient, outpatient, in the  community, for governments, drug companies, or publishers. There are so many opportunities. I've even confronted some nurses and told them you're spewing toxic fumes in this unit. What's wrong? What are you so miserable about? Why do you feel trapped here? What's holding you back from trying something new that you might love. And sometimes the person is so deep in the hole of pity, and negativity that they don't even see it, which is fascinating. I challenge people by saying, life is too short to get out of bed, any one day in your life and be miserable at what you're doing. I encourage them to leave and find something new and exciting and rewarding. It's okay to change jobs.

What advice do you have for nurses who want to publish?

My advice to someone who has the desire is to start by working with a team. Find a team, especially one with experienced authors. Or, if you have a great idea, invite an experienced author to be your second author who has the knowledge of the publishing process. And that person becomes the second author and they guide you through each step. I don't recommend trying to do it alone. When you're a novice, you don't know what you're doing. You'll make mistakes that you don't even realize you're making. And then you risk rejection from the journal. Once people get rejected, they're very discouraged and don't continue.

What nurses don't understand is when they're working in the clinical area, they have so much knowledge to share. But the problem is often we haven't taught students how to write. And as nurses, in nursing education, we don't do a lot of teaching of writing and writing term papers and those kinds of things. So it is intimidating to some people. But if you guide people through the process, they get very excited that they wrote something that's now in a journal, it's out there. People read it.

How do you think nursing can improve as a profession?

We have done a poor job of recruiting more men and minorities into the profession. And that worries me greatly. Fifty years ago, we had three percent of nurses who were men. Today, it's about 10 percent. That's a pitiful rise in that many years. So we need to make nursing more attractive to a more diverse set of candidates. We need to recruit men and those who represent ethnic and racial minorities. The workforce needs to reflect those we serve. And so that's what worries me greatly in nursing and nursing education is that it is so predominantly white women.

That's not ideal for the profession, not good to the patients we care for. That would be my wish for the future; to do more in the area of recruitment.

HealthJob Editors
May 11, 2021

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